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MMSD chief apologizes for report's late release
By Steve Schultze and Marie Rohde
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Stung by criticism over greatly underreported sewage dumping totals, the top Milwaukee sewerage district official apologized Monday for failing to disclose a seven-month-old consultant's report outlining the problem.

Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District Executive Director Kevin Shafer also said he still doubts the results of the report and added that a new set of experts will be hired to go over the study. If they find that the dumping report was wrong, MMSD will seek reimbursement for the extra costs from the original contractor or its insurer, Shafer said.

"I want to apologize to you again for not sharing this with you earlier," Shafer told members of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission at a committee meeting Monday morning.

Shafer also apologized to Scott Hassett, secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources, in a July 11 letter, for failing to notify the DNR about the dumping report.

Though MMSD got its final report on the revised dumping numbers in December, it was not publicly released until this month, when the Journal Sentinel obtained it.

DNR officials will review MMSD records on the dumping study at the district's headquarters today, said Charles Burney, a DNR official who oversees MMSD.

"Our administration wants to know when did (MMSD officials) know about this and what did they do with it," said Burney.

Though MMSD was not required to disclose the dumping study to the DNR under terms of its state operating permit, DNR officials would have preferred to see it sooner, Burney said. MMSD mailed a copy to the DNR last week, Burney said.

Shafer said new consultants would double-check the math and computer programming used in the $500,000 sewer overflow study that Milwaukee-based Triad Engineering did for MMSD. He doubts the accuracy of the Triad report, based on some preliminary review by computer experts, Shafer said.

Triad's report said raw sewage dumping after three large rainstorms had been low-balled by MMSD by an average of 72% in the reports it filed with the state. The district dumped 4.9 billion gallons of untreated sewage into local streams and Lake Michigan, not the 2.9 billion gallons that MMSD reported to the state, according to the Triad study.

MMSD Commissioner Bill Christofferson said the district wasn't shopping for more favorable findings by having other experts review the Triad study.

"We are not looking for different results, we are looking to make the program work that we've invested a half-million dollars in," Christofferson said. "Good or bad, we want to know the outcome."

Shafer said computer software produced by Triad to help MMSD better calculate sewage dumping totals didn't work right. In his letter to the DNR's Hassett, Shafer said the program had not been successfully installed or tested by Triad. He also said the new program was in the possession of a Triad subcontractor who no longer was working on the project.

However, Triad engineer Willie Gonwa said the software was installed on a computer server specifically purchased for the project, which was turned over to MMSD with Triad's final report.

Asked about that apparent discrepancy, Shafer acknowledged in an interview Monday that MMSD did have possession of the program after all. But he said MMSD couldn't use the program because of software glitches.

"We still have a product that we have not been able to test or use," said Shafer.

Shafer noted that Triad's assumptions regarding river levels and other measures that are the report's basis for estimating the amount of sewage dumped are dramatically different from those that have been used by MMSD.

Although the Triad assumptions "may well be reasonable," a second opinion is needed, Shafer said. The district will also install gauges to more precisely measure the overflow on 10 of the 130 dumping points as recommended by Triad, he said.

Shafer said he planned to hire a national expert to help fix the program and perhaps others to help MMSD recalculate sewage dumping.

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